Thursday, July 29, 2021

Creating Authenticity Within Fiction

by Kathleen Neely @NeelyKneely3628

Authenticity within fiction may sound like a paradox, but let me explain. Today’s readers are very selective. Inaccuracies lead to poor reviews, something most writers dread. Research is not just for time period novels.

Let’s look at elements of a novel that require accuracy.

Setting: Choose a place that you know well or visit it during a fact-finding excursion. Make the setting influence the story. I chose Pittsburgh for The Least of These because of the abundance of bridges and homeless communities. Asheville became the setting for The Street Singer due to the artsy nature of the town. Once you choose a setting, learn the culture, the street names, the directional location of venues, and the rich smells and sounds. 

Occupations: This is so important because it typically does double duty in your novel. Often a character’s occupation is integral to the plot. Their backstory, talents, and apptitudes are intrinsically linked to what they do for a living, so the author better know it well. Don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found that people love talking about their occupation. 

Hobbies: I like using what I call sub-themes. For instance, in The Street Singer, you’ll find Trisha remodeling her grandfather’s old farmhouse. Beauty for Ashes features Nathan, a basketball enthusiast and Angie, an amateur violinist. In Search of True North’s name was derived from Mallory’s love for astronomy. These sub-themes kept me researching how to create a homemade telescope; listening to classical violin selections; learning the terminology and care of a violin, and much more. I am fortunate to have a friend who plays first chair violin for a major symphony. He read the draft of my violin passages and said, “We have to talk!” 

Legal and Medical: I love legal novels and movies. You’ll find a common thread in a few of my novels with legal issues. I’m out of my element so I must rely on research to write those scenes well. I’ve used a variety of sources but the best is advice from attorneys. If your plot delves into legal issues or medical concerns, you’ll find a plethora of information online. My strategy is to use the online info, then send those portions of the manuscript to a professional who has agreed to verify. The online info has been surprisingly accurate, but I’ve been alerted to a number of passages in need of rewording. 

A few tips: 
  • Research should enhance your story, not overpower it. Don’t bog your story down with unnecessary details just because you can. If you’ve extensively researched details of a character’s disease or occupation, only use what drives the story. Don’t turn your novel into a non-fiction documentary. Not every fact needs to be mentioned. 
  • Whenever possible, use context clues to explain unfamiliar vernacular rather than supplying an overt definition. Allow the scene to explain those uncommon words. 
  • Keep track of your sources. When seeking publication, you may be called to validate your information. 
If you have research tips to share, I’d love to hear from you. 


Kathleen Neely is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading. 

She is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes, The Least of These, and In Search of True North. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions. 

Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. 


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